Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Is There Life in a Decomposing Log?

3. A Smithsonian Scientist at Work

This is the spot for a video...
In this video clip, Jennifer Sevin discusses the process of decomposition in rotting logs.

Jennifer Sevin, a scientist at the National Zoo studying salamanders in Shenandoah National Park, is developing a plan to monitor these amphibians over time. The Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) is an endangered species occurring only in 3 remote mountaintop locations in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It eats insects and other invertebrates, including mollusks, and its habitat includes deep pockets of soil in the forest, rotting logs, and leaf litter.

In the following video, “Is there Life in a Decomposing Log?,” Jennifer takes you into the forest at the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia, where she explains the process of decomposition and explores the types of species found in a rotting log.

After you watch the video, return to your small groups to review your thoughts on decomposition and communities of species found in rotting logs. Did any of Jennifer’s information surprise you? Do you have new ideas to share with the group? Would you change any of your previous answers?

After small-group discussion, share your thoughts with your class. Save your written group answers to discuss at the end of your outdoor lab.

Now that you’ve learned some basic information about decomposition and about species that live in rotting logs, you are ready to go outside and explore a rotting log in nature.